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After 10 years, few changes in Saudi extremist textbooks
Nina Shea and the Hudson Institute's report on Saudi Arabian textbooks
Nina Shea and the Hudson Institute's report on Saudi Arabian textbooks
By Benjamin Mann
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.- A new report shows that Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers of 9/11, continues to promote a violent form of Islam through its school system and textbooks 10 years after the attacks.

“The Saudi government has given over its textbooks to the clerical Wahhabi extremists that it partners with to maintain control of the country,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, in a Sept. 13 interview with CNA.

As a consequence, the texts continue to teach students that “the Jews and the Christians are enemies” of Muslims, and that “the struggle of this (Muslim) nation with the Jews and Christians … will continue as long as God wills.”

While describing Jews as “apes” and Christians as “swine,” the middle-school and high-school books command death for apostates from Islam, while encouraging violence against non-Muslims who refuse to make a “covenant” or come “under protection” of the Muslims.

“In the general usage, Jihad is divided into the following categories: … Wrestling with the unbelievers by calling them (to Islam) and fighting them,” teaches the 12th-grade text “Hadith and Islamic Culture,” used in the 2010-2011 school year by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Education.

In a report released on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Shea notes that “some Saudis themselves have acknowledged the problem posed by the nation’s curriculum.”

“Nevertheless, the encouragement of violence and extremism remains an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s national textbooks, particularly those on religion. Five million Saudi students are exposed to them in Saudi classrooms each year.”

“Moreover, as the controlling authority of the two holiest shrines of Islam, Saudi Arabia is able to disseminate its religious materials among the millions of Muslims making the hajj each year. Hence, these teachings can have a wide and deep influence,” the report noted.

Shea said that the Saudi government's uneasy truce with extremist elements – which she compared to a “protection racket” – dates back to 1979, when an “Al Qaeda prototype” attempted to seize Mecca's Grand Mosque and overthrow the country's monarchy.

The event “very much shook up the Saudi monarchy,” particularly since it came during the same year as the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“All of those things made the Saudi monarchy very insecure,” Shea explained. “They ended up in a grand bargain with the clerics, to maintain peace in the kingdom and stop the threats against their own rule.”

“They gave them the Islamic affairs ministry, to export their creed around the world – and they gave them the education ministry, to indoctrinate Saudis themselves.”

After the 9/11 attacks, “we all learned that in fact Saudis were being radicalized, and attacking us and others.” Shea said that U.S. diplomats “made a few complaints, but there was no sustained diplomacy – not on the par that's needed to see this change.”

The religious freedom director compared this weak U.S. effort to the substantial progress made on the subject of terrorist funding, “to the point where the Saudi religious establishment issued a fatwa in 2010, saying that financing terror was a sin. That's an amazing breakthrough. It took a long time to get that.”

“But there's no hope in sight for reform of the Saudi textbooks, because there isn't that kind of pressure from the United States.” Shea thinks that's because “the U.S. just doesn't want to get involved in the ideological contest.”

More specifically, she believes that both Republican and Democratic administrations have been reluctant to quarrel with Saudi officials over what's seen as an exclusively religious matter.

“I think that the diplomats, frankly, are very uncomfortable talking about religion. They don't know how to analyze it, and they are really blind to it … There is a reluctance, by diplomats, to talk about religion. (As though) somehow they're 'criticizing Islam' if they say that.”

“I think that they're afraid to anger the Saudis. But they're not afraid (when) insisting that terrorist financing stop. They've made some success there. They need to see this in the same light.”

Diplomatic pressure would succeed if applied, Shea says, because of the oil-rich kingdom's sensitivity to criticism and its need to maintain a good relationship with the U.S.
 
“The Saudis do care about their reputation. And seeing the United States as the guarantor of their own security (against regional rivals) … they don't defend this education. When it's raised, they either say that it's been cleaned up or it will be cleaned up.”

“They don't defend it at all – and that's what makes me feel that if we keep the spotlight on it, and keep pressure on, they will eventually have to do something about it.”

But since there is not an incentive, the pace of progress in reforming the textbooks since 9/11 has been “glacial.”

In the meantime, the Saudi clerics' Wahhabist interpretation of Islam continues to spread throughout the Muslim world.

“Indonesia which was traditionally noted as a very moderate, open society, has become more radicalized,” she noted, describing the progress of the ideology in the world's largest Muslim country.

“It's not just confined to Saudi Arabia. They're posted online, these textbooks, and also shipped around the world to Muslim communities by the Saudis – free of charge, using their vast oil wealth. And it's radicalizing societies.”

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